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#ThemeSongTuesday: The Music of WWE 2K18


We are a little under two months away from the release of WWE 2K18, and we're getting a clearer picture of how this year's game looks, sounds, and feels with every sneak peek. From last week's initial reveal of the first 47 Superstars you can play in the game—including Sawyer Fulton, for some strange reason—2K continues its quest to top 2K17 and set the new bar for "biggest roster ever."

This week's announcement from 2K doesn't round out the roster, but it does focus on one of the more underrated aspects of any video game: the music. When 2K first took over the WWE video game franchise for 2K14, the soundtrack wasn't anything special. It just followed a pattern we'd previously seen in SmackDown vs. RAW 2011, where the in-game tracklist featured entrance themes of several WWE Superstars.

2K15 featured a game-changer when they brought in John Cena to curate the soundtrack. For the first time in a WWE video game, the playlist had a lot of hip-hop songs, along with the standard rock fare we'd get with every release. The reception at the time was as polarizing as John Cena at a live event. Some felt it was refreshing hearing songs from artists like B.o.B. and Dizzee Rascal, as well as being introduced to the two songs that Wiz Khalifa and Cena recorded together; while others felt that the soundtrack felt one-dimensional.

2K16 brought a little more variety into its soundtrack, featuring artists you wouldn't expect to be on a playlist together like Billy Idol, Machine Gun Kelly, and Zedd. What a combination, right? That doesn't even include Run-DMC, Kid Ink, Diplo, and Twenty One Pilots—all of whom were also part of that year's tracklist.

And then 2K17 came and Puff Daddy—or whatever the hell he goes by now, really, it's so hard to keep track—took the reins. To his credit, only one of his own songs was included ("Bad Boy For Life"), and until now, it's one of two songs that I still think of when 2K17 comes to mind—the other being "Ride" by Twenty One Pilots.

What does this all mean, really? The point I'm trying to get at is that a video game's soundtrack is only as good as whoever curates it. LeBron James may have come up with a memorable tracklist for NBA 2K14, but until now, Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" sticks out like a sore thumb as its lone dud.

Since we know that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson cooked up this year's tracklist, how about we take a look at his selections and smell what he's really cooking?

Blues Brothers - "Soul Man"



Well, I'll be damned. In all my years of playing WWE video games, this is the first time a soul track is actually part of the playlist. While I'm not one to understate the pop culture impact of the Blues Brothers as a comedy act, I'm not too sold on this song's fit in a wrestling video game. At best, it's a nice, funky tune to keep you from being bored while you and your friends are creating the models for your favorite PWR stars. At worst, it'll make a lot of millennials scratch their heads and wonder why Tito Dwayne went with a song that's as old as some parents today.

But if you really want to know why this song is significant to Tito Dwayne, the answer is simple. "Soul Man" is a tribute to his father, WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson, who was part of The Soul Patrol in the 1980's.

Boston - "Smokin'"


Okay, this is a song I can actually imagine in a wrestling setting.

No matter the generation, there is always, always, a place for arena rock in pro wrestling. It's the type of song that gets everybody up on their feet, like, y'know, an entrance theme. Even though it was released a good decade before Southpaw Regional Wrestling's time, I actually see this song having been used by the Surf Dudes With Attitudes in one of their prototypes for their new gimmick.

Oh, and that solo that starts at 1:30 is just absolutely beautiful.

Bruno Mars - "Runaway Baby"


Count this Bruno ditty under the "fun song to listen to while I'm making my CAW" category.

Every year, there's always this random poppy song that finds its way to the soundtrack to give it a more radio-friendly feel. Last year, it was "Ride" by Twenty One Pilots. A couple of years before that, it was "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida feat. Sia.

Truthfully, there are a lot of other, more recognizable Bruno Mars songs that could find a place on this tracklist like "24K Magic," or "Locked Out Of Heaven." One thing's for sure, Mr. Mars' funk and soul stylings definitely caught The Rock's ear, and that's why it made his list. Noticing a pattern in what Dwayne's musical tastes are like?

Disturbed - "Down With The Sickness"


Now THIS is a song you'd expect to hear in a wrestling video game. In fact, I'm surprised this is the first time it's been included in a WWE video game.

"Down With The Sickness" has got to be the most wrestling-like track—the one you're most likely to hear as an entrance theme—among the entire tracklist. Anyone who's ever liked this song knows just how hardcore this song makes you feel from the intro, to the initial OH-WA-AH-AH-AHH, to the grisly riffs during the verses.

This song also reminds me a lot of "Bodies" by Drowning Pool, another staple in pro wrestling, especially after it was used as the opening theme for WWECW in the mid-2000s, before Chris Benoit's infamous double murder-suicide.

If you're familiar with the song, the bridge/interlude has got to be one of the more psychologically-scarring versions of the song, so expect 2K to edit that out, much like in the version used in the music video above. Spoiler alert: this song won't be the only one on the list that'll get the family-friendly treatment.

Eazy-E - "Boyz-N-The-Hood"


About damn time we had some hip-hop on the soundtrack.

The Rock made an interesting choice here by going with Eazy-E's signature song, "Boyz-N-The-Hood." As with "Down With The Sickness," expect this track to be heavily edited when you hear it in 2K18. Frankly, given its lyrics and themes, I'm surprised it made the cut in the first place.

Whether or not you've watched Straight Outta Compton, anybody who's ever had an appreciation for hip-hop should understand the influence of N.W.A. into the hip-hop scene. This track's inclusion is as good as it gets, especially considering that a lot of people who are bound to buy 2K18 may be getting their first exposure to Eazy-E through the (very, very radio-friendly) version they're about to hear in the game. Hey, if it leads them down a rabbit hole that leads them to discover songs like "Fuck tha Police," then I'm all for it as a music geek.

George Thorogood & The Destroyers - "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer"


WHY.

WHY.

WHY, DWAYNE, WHY.

Okay, let's be positive here. Radio DJs everywhere will have one reason to like this song: it's so long it automatically fits in any DJ's "I have to take a shit so I need to play a long song" playlist.

When I first heard this song, I wanted to call John Cena up to deliver another AA to The Rock for including this song in this year's tracklist. However, now that I think about it, blues is actually a genre that means a lot to ol' Dwayne. For one, if you remember his promos in which he sings, it's very much influenced by blues. It's a genre that could actually grow on you, especially when you start imagining someone like Heath Slater coming out to songs like this.

And then I think about John Mayer and his blues roots and how much I hated his albums Born and Raised and Paradise Valley and I'm all upset again. I think this'll be the first song I'll proactively mute from the playlist.

Joe Walsh - "Rocky Mountain Way"


MAKE THAT TWO. I AM MUTING THIS ONE, TOO.

Call me a heathen for not appreciating classic rock. I don't care.

I just can't enjoy a slow, plodding blues track when I'm supposed to get pumped up for some WRESTLING.

WHY, DWAYNE, WHY

Kanye West - BLKKK SKKKN HEAD


Most people remember "Yeezus" best for "Bound 2," but the better track to immortalize is "Black Skinhead."

Like "Down With The Sickness," this song can also make for a good entrance theme because of the drums that just ominously announce someone's presence. The song is gritty and has a tribal vibe because of the beat and the Tarzan screams peppered throughout the record. While I didn't enjoy it so much on the first listen, it grew on me the more and more I played it on Spotify. It's one of the perfect "fite me" songs; it just hypes you up and makes you want to snatch someone bald.

And if you're wondering why this song is strangely familiar, you may remember it from this scene in Suicide Squad.

It's also very anti-establishment and anti-racism, which somehow feels very appropriate given the political climate in both the U.S. and in this country, though I can't seem to put my finger on why that is. Hmm.

Kid Rock - "You Never Met A Motherfucker Quite Like Me"


If you didn't know that one of the Undertaker's entrance themes as the American Bad Ass was performed by Kid Rock, then you'd think that this song is another headscratcher of an inclusion in 2K18's soundtrack. Hell, you might even be forgiving for associating this song with Nickelback's "Rock Star" because of the similarity in vibe and beat.

Now, remember The Rock's love for blues? Imagine the genre evolving and finding a place in today's middle-class America. That's pretty much this song—and Kid Rock's music career—in a microcosm.

I don't exactly imagine this song as befitting a wrestling video game soundtrack, but the song does have the bravado of a Stone Cold Steve Austin. You'll see it best in the music video, where Kid Rock takes a shit and wipes his ass with toilet paper that says "Radiohead" on it.

As for its lyrics—and hell, it's title—expect it to get a distilled version in the video game.


¡MAYDAY! - "Last One Standing" (feat. Tech N9ne)


FINALLY. Damn, I can't believe how long it took before I found a song that I could realistically imagine in a WWE 2K soundtrack in 2017. 

Even though this song isn't exactly how hip-hop sounds in 2017, there is still a place for early 2010s hip-hop on any playlist, let alone a soundtrack for a wrestling video game. I particularly enjoy how the individual members of ¡MAYDAY! are clearly distinguishable based on their flow, cadence, and pace. Tech N9ne's guest verse—and Busta Rhymes-like entry—at the end gives the song the emphatic oomph it needs to close it with a mic drop. 

Lyrically, "Last One Standing" is about as close as any of these songs get to identifying with being in the wrestling business. Bernz of ¡MAYDAY! describes the song as an ode to all the people they've met in the music industry and how success in their business requires having to compromise who you are as a person. It's not all that different from a lot of wrestlers who let the business consume them one way or another because the system just easily chews people up and spits them out. 

This has got to be a Grade-A pick from The Rock right here.

Tech N9ne - Straight Out The Gate (feat. Serj Tankian)


Who knew Serj Tankian, the iconic voice behind System Of A Down, would sound great on a hip-hop track? Tech N9ne deserves a lot of props for collaborating with Tankian and bringing him into this track, which attacks false prophets and messiahs, a theme System Of A Down sang about a lot during its heyday, as well.

While this song isn't necessarily a track I'd immediately pick as an entrance theme, you can get how it belongs in a wrestling video game. Musically, it sounds like an amalgam of two Eminem songs: the angry, marching beat of "White America" and the strong strings of "Mosh." 

In a way, it sounds like a spiritual successor to songs like Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" and Rev Theory's "Voices," both of whom are anti-authority and anti-establishment tracks that got a lot of love from wrestling fans everywhere because they were used by stars like CM Punk and Randy Orton.

"Straight Out The Gate" is the type of song you'd bring to a big fight, or the type you'd expect Adam "the Video Guy" Pennucci—the guy who produces WWE's hype video packages—to use to recap a big story right before a huge PPV match. 

Hey, if only you could create your own pre-match hype video packages in WWE 2K18, right?

*****

Overall, the soundtrack is honestly hit-or-miss. That's what you get when the task of putting together a soundtrack is largely left in the hands of one man. You're at the mercy of his/her tastes and whims, and while you can come out with a great tracklist like LeBron's for NBA 2K14, you can also come out with duds like John Cena's soundtrack for WWE 2K15.

Several of The Rock's choices make you wonder what he had for breakfast the day 2K asked him for the this year's tracklist. But there are songs like "Boyz-N-The-Hood," "Down With The Sickness," "Last One Standing," and "Straight Out The Gate" that make all the sense in the world.

Do keep in mind that a lot of my feelings towards these songs were a result of me going through these songs one by one and imagining myself going through the in-game menus while they were playing in the background. Popping in WWE 2K18 and actually hearing these songs in the game could very well be a different story altogether. Then again, when it comes to music, I also trust my gut on the first listen, so take all of this with a grain of salt.

The next few weeks should be interesting as more and more Superstars are announced for 2K18 as we move towards its release date of October 17. The game's tagline is "Be Like No One," and in the soundtrack's case, at least The Rock stayed true to 2K18's branding.

Photo from 2K

*****

Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio broadcaster, events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can also catch him every month attempting to keep order in a fancy suit as PWR's General Manager.

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